Thursday 14 December 2017

Martin Breheny: Completing championships by early August would be grave miscalculation

Kilkenny and Tipperary teams taking part in last September's All-Ireland SHC final pre-match parade - the new Club Players Association (CPA) want hurling's showpiece brought forward to July to free up more time for club fixtures. Photo: Sportsfile
Kilkenny and Tipperary teams taking part in last September's All-Ireland SHC final pre-match parade - the new Club Players Association (CPA) want hurling's showpiece brought forward to July to free up more time for club fixtures. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Declan Brennan, one of the prime movers behind the formation of the Club Players' Association, had issues with the heading in this column last week, which referred to players "preparing for war" in pursuit of a more balanced fixtures' structure.

He referenced it at Monday's launch of the Association, stating that it wasn't quite like that and repeated the point later in an interview with Brian Carthy on RTé radio. "There were headlines last week that we were going to war. We're not going to war. We're going to engage. We need to get this over the line. War doesn't get you anywhere," said Brennan.

Yet, when asked what the CPA was prepared to do to force change, Brennan replied: "Whatever it takes to get this over the line". Sounds a lot like a declaration of war, does it not?

He also described last Monday as "a more important day than when the Association was formed." I would hate to be on the proposing side of that debate but, in fairness to Brennan, it demonstrates his passion and commitment to the cause.

Obviously, he didn't regard the 'war' reference as helpful but the truth is it may prove to be the only way to "get this over the line". After all, there is such a thing as a just war.

Just about everyone in the GAA accepts that club players are getting a bad deal with fixtures. It has been that way for decades, yet instead of being addressed and corrected the problem has got worse.

Every incoming GAA president puts a better deal for club players high up his pre-election agenda, only to find that there's little enough he can do once he gets into power. The CPA has identified flawed systems and bureaucracy as the main source of the problem but since they are managed by individuals and groups, the buck has to stop somewhere.

However, similar to the health services where individuals are never held responsible for difficulties, the GAA's dysfunctional fixtures' schedule - and in fairness it's complex because of the multiplicity of competitions catering for two sports - has no personal fingerprints.

Clubs blame county boards, who blame county managers, uncertainty over summer dates due to replays and qualifiers, plus the difficulty of juggling several competitions.

Managers blame the championship structures, complete with drawn-out provincial campaigns and long delays for the All-Ireland series. Provincial councils are unhappy with counties that aren't sufficiently firm in keeping club programmes running.

At the top of the wobbly pyramid sits Croke Park which, despite being depicted as the ultimate authority, has limited powers since its administrators have to follow policy set by Congress. Director-general Páraic Duffy has proposed a number of initiatives, the most recent of which involves bringing forward the provincial and All-Ireland senior championships so that the finals can be played on the second (hurling) and fourth (football) Sundays in August.

The CPA wants an even more radical shift, with both finals completed by the August Bank Holiday weekend. That would mean playing the hurling final in late July.

Now that's where a line must be drawn. The CPA's aims and ambitions are justified and laudable but the idea of completing the All-Ireland championships by the first Sunday of August is promotional madness. Indeed, I wouldn't be in favour of Duffy's plan to shave three weeks off the All-Ireland season either.

Whatever internal difficulties it may have with fixtures and competitions, the GAA needs to remember that it's competing for public and media attention in an ever-increasing sporting market.

The CPA proposal leaves the final five months of the year without inter-county games. And since January is pre-season month, it means that all inter-county action would be squeezed into a six-month period. Even then, there would be a lull between league and championship.

You won't find rugby and soccer blanking the showcase arenas for six months. So while the CPA are right to launch a crusade on behalf of frustrated club players, the solution should not include anything that damages the overall package. Playing the All-Ireland finals in July/early August would most certainly do that. And dangerously so.

Club players who want to join the CPA can do so on

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